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NFL legal troubles mount over gender and race discrimination claims

This week's developments should deeply concern the league's top officials, including Commissioner Roger Goodell.


The National Football League is having an undeniably awful week. 

On Tuesday, several state attorneys general sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell voicing “grave concerns” about allegations of workplace harassment and discrimination experienced by women working in league offices. 

The AGs, including New York's Letitia James, warned that the league could face a broad investigation into its inner workings if it doesn’t take substantive steps to address the allegations. 

Some of the harassment and discrimination allegations were detailed in an extensive New York Times report in February, and included claims that female employees were marginalized in their roles, forced to watch a video of former NFL running back Ray Rice abusing his wife, and being asked to publicly voice whether they’d personally experienced domestic violence. 

Investigations can turn up all sorts of ugly and embarrassing details. Just ask Jon Gruden.

Other reports of sexual predation by Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder were addressed in a congressional hearing in February. (Snyder has denied the allegations.)

“Our offices will use the full weight of our authority to investigate and prosecute allegations of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation by employers throughout our states, including at the National Football League,” the AGs said in their letter Tuesday.

And things only got worse for the NFL by week’s end.

On Thursday, two Black coaches joined former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores’ class-action lawsuit accusing the league of discrimination. Flores, who is Black, alleges he was offered money by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to lose games on purpose, and he said other teams gave him sham interviews that violated the league’s Rooney Rule, meant to ensure that minority candidates are interviewed for coaching positions. 

The NFL, with its paltry contingent of Black coaches, has long been accused of discrimination and setting up Black coaches for failure. The fact multiple coaches are now willing to tie their names to those allegations in a court of law should deeply concern the NFL. Investigations can turn up all sorts of ugly and embarrassing detail. Just ask Jon Gruden.

Image: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in Palm Beach, Fla., on March 29, 2022.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in Palm Beach, Fla., on March 29, 2022.Rebecca Blackwell / AP file

Former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks was one of the coaches to join Flores’ suit, alleging he was effectively hired in 2018 to keep the seat warm for another coach and “not given any meaningful chance to succeed.” He was fired after going 3-13 in his first season. 

Former Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton joined as well, alleging he — like Flores — had been given a sham head coach interview by the Titans in 2016 for the sole purpose of satisfying the team’s Rooney Rule obligations. Those claims seem to be corroborated by the man who eventually got that job, Mike Mularkey, who said in a 2020 podcast that Titans ownership told him the job was his before Horton had his interview.

“I sat there knowing I was the head coach in ‘16 as they went through this fake hiring process,” he said. 

The NFL has denied Flores' allegations and, in response to the February report from the Times, disputed that the league was insensitive to issues of gender and racial inequality. The Dolphins, Cardinals and Titans have also denied the former coaches' allegations.

But as the adage goes, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” But when it comes to the NFL’s issues with racist discrimination and misogynist marginalization, we’re talking about a blaze that’s been raging in plain sight for decades. Whatever the legal outcome, the league's facade of morality is falling to pieces.